When thinking of billion-dollar industries, things such as cosmetics, big data, and virtual reality come to mind. But did you know that each year, people bet more than $100 billion on horse racing?

Being so popular, horse racing has drawn some criticism for the effects it has on animals. But what is the consensus: is it dangerous or not? And how did the sport first get started?

Keep reading to learn about how horse racing came to be what it is today, as well as the impact of racing on horses.

The Origins of Horse Riding

The first recorded instances of horse riding come from thousands of years ago. The ancient Greeks participated in the sport from around 700 BC to 40 BC, when Greece was under Roman occupation. They rode both chariots, as well as on the backs of horses.

Horse racing was also popular in the Roman Empire. Massive events took place in the Circus Maximums, where tens of thousands of people could watch chariot races and other similar events. Experts believe that similar events took place in other countries as well, such as China and the Middle East.

From Hobby to Organized Event

As the sport continued to gain popularity with time, the scope of it began to expand. Charles II of England, who people knew as the “the father of English turf”, began organizing professional events in the mid-1700s.

He organized the King’s Plates, a series of national races where he distributed prizes to the winners. Rulers in other countries such as France began organizing similar events during this time period as well.

Studbooks and Bloodlines

With people across the world beginning to enjoy horse racing, the importance of breeding began to grow as well. Thoroughbreds, which descended from Turk, Arab, and Barb horses, began to be the primary type of horse that participated in events.

For many years, people considered thoroughbreds to be horses that only came from England. If breeders bred them in the Americas or France, then they were viewed as tainted. This mindset disappeared in the mid-20th century when “tainted” French horses began winning races.

Racing in the Modern Era

Most racing experts consider the modern era of horse racing to have begun with the three classic races in England. These include the St. Leger, the Oaks, and the Derby, all from the end of the 18th century.

France began hosting similar classic races in the 19th and early 20th century, as did the United States. Today, the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness Stakes, and the Kentucky Derby all form a part of the American Triple Crown.

Racing Strategies

When racing first became popular in the United States, horses ran on quarter-mile long tracks. The race was a sprint, and riders crouched while riding their horses. This unique, American style way of sitting spread across the world, and is now used regardless of the length of the race track.

As longer races became more popular, riders had to begin to pace their horses, as thoroughbreds can sprint only a quarter-mile without needing to rest. Riders today put a lot of consideration and thought into when the right time is to unleash their horse’s burst of speed.


Training for all racehorses is simple. It involves helping horses enjoy the healthiest and best lifestyle to ensure that they are ready for when they need to race.

Caretakers need to have a solid understanding of feeding programs, exercise plans, and how to take care of individual horses. The right jockey works well with the horse, and also knows which races they can perform well in. The jockey also needs to time when the horse will be at its peak so that it coincides with when it races.

A Race Horse’s Career

Most racehorses live for around 25-30 years but only spend two to three years racing. If they race when they are young, they can retire early and spend the rest of their lives in comfortable conditions. People expect breeders to treat racehorses well after their careers end, especially since racing is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Racehorses can end their career for many reasons. Some stop because of age, some because of behavior, and others because of poor performance. if a racehorse ends its career while in training or as a foal, it’s known as “wastage”.

Is Horse Racing Safe?

Today, many animal rights groups condemn horse racing as being cruel and dangerous to the animals. They argue that the sport increases the chances of horses developing injuries, and in some cases, can even lead to death.

Although accidents do indeed occur, the number is small in comparison to the number of horses that run each year. It’s also important to mention that if a horse does sustain an injury, they will no longer participate in horse races. They’ll retire, and will receive medical attention to help alleviate any pain.

Most horses that retire end up going to new homes or are used for breeding purposes. Either way, they end up enjoying a comfortable rest of their lives.

An Intense Sport, but a Short Career

Horse racing has been around in one form or another for thousands of years. As this guide explains, it’s true that the sport can lead to injuries for horses and riders. However, after their short racing career ends, many horses get to enjoy the relaxing lifestyle of retired sports stars.

Did you learn some facts about horse racing that you didn’t know? If you did, make sure to take a look at some of our other blog posts for more guides and tips.

Leave a comment